The U.S. Forest Service has announced the publication of the final Environmental Impact Statement and the Draft Record of Decision for the proposed Rosemont open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson.
This 2,500-plus-page impact statement can be found on the Forest Service website: www.rosemonteis.us
In the face of this development, we, members of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas Association, offer five key facts:
1. Rosemont is a long way from receiving final approval. The release of the impact statement and Draft Record of Decision does not mean the Rosemont Mine is going to gain final approval. On the contrary, it still has a long way to go. Those who submitted written comments (approximately 25,000) on the draft statement can raise still objections.
More importantly, Rosemont must receive a Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which, if granted, would allow potentially toxic mine waste to threaten Southern Arizona water supplies. Additionally, key state groundwater and air quality permits are under appeal.
Even if the Forest Service and other agencies approve the project, mine opponents have the option of challenging that decision in federal court.
2. The Forest Service’s Environmental Impact Statement is incomplete. By its own admission, there are numerous significant problems with the Rosemont proposal that were raised by local, state and other federal agencies. These have neither been resolved nor fully addressed in the impact statement. Again, these problems may lead to court challenges.
3. The Environmental Protection Agency has serious concerns about Rosemont’s Water Protection Plan. After conducting a comprehensive review of Rosemont’s proposed water pollution mitigation plan, the EPA informed the Corps of Engineers in a Nov. 7 letter that Rosemont’s proposed plan is “grossly inadequate” and “does not comply with Clean Water Act Guidelines.” The EPA concluded that the Rosemont Mine Project “should not be permitted as proposed.” The EPA has veto authority if the Army Corps of Engineers were to issue the Clean Water Act permit.
4. Tribal nations are opposed to Rosemont. None of the 12 tribal nations and communities that were included in the “FEIS” consultation signed the National Historic Preservation Act’s Memorandum of Agreement. To quote Chairman Ned Norris Jr. of the Tohono O’odham Nation in a letter sent to the Coronado National Forest, the Rosemont Mine will “irrevocably alter the cultural landscape of Ce:wi Duag (Santa Rita Mountains).”
5. Rosemont would permanently destroy thousands of acres of publicly owned national forest, dump mine waste in a critical Southern Arizona watershed and likely damage local economies. Regardless of what Rosemont says about its operation being a 21st-century mine, in actuality it would be an old-school open-pit mine that would blast a mile-wide, half-mile-deep hole in the Santa Rita Mountains and bury several thousand acres of public land under a billion tons of potentially toxic mine wastes. It would destroy an irreplaceable environmental, recreational and cultural treasure while jeopardizing Southern Arizona’s water supplies, wildlife and local economies.
The so-called gain for these losses would be about 410 to 450 jobs, the approximate equivalent of the staff of three grocery stores. This number of jobs would most certainly not transform the economies of Pima and Santa Cruz counties.
One truly unfortunate side effect would likely be the damage to the tourist- and recreation-driven economies of Sonoita, Patagonia and Elgin, as well as severe reduction in property values for homeowners living near the proposed mine.
Do the gains justify the losses? We don’t think so.